Iraqi Air Force boasts control of air space

The Iraqi Army's Air Force is boasting it will manage Iraq's air space after the U.S. forces withdraw from the country by the end of this year.

The statement by Hamed al-Maliki, the Iraqi Army's Aviation Commander, comes as the Americans are preparing to withdraw from Iraq by mid-December. The final responsibility of the U.S. presence - protecting Iraq's air spaces - will be surrendered to the Iraqi army. The pullback is considered to be a watershed moment for the Iraqi forces who have been accustomed to foreign logistic and military support since 2003.

"Our [aviation] command has been dependent on its Iraqi contingent...If the U.S. forces withdraw now, the Army's air capability will not be affected," al-Maliki said.

"The Iraqi Army Air Force has been, since its establishment in early 2010, able to protect the Iraqi airspace and to develop its abilities...If this ability was not present, the Iraqi government would not have signed the deal on the U.S. forces withdrawal."

The timetable for the American troop draw down was set in the Status of Forces Agreement signed by Iraqi Minister for Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari and then U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker in November 2008.

Iraq's General Chief of Staff Gen. Babakir Zebari has warned that the Iraqi army will not be able to protect its air space until 2020.

The U.S. army maintains some 17,000 troops in Iraq, according to al-Maliki, who are expected to pull back "in the coming days"

"We have achieved an accepted level of readiness though there are some shortcomings which are present in any army in the world. We are working on removing them," he added.